Birgit Kötting has one of those jobs that many only dream about and others would never dream of doing. For more than one and half decades, Birgit has worked in the Namibian bush with her base in the world-renowned Etosha National Park, focussing on saving the endangered black rhino from extinction.
Her work with wildlife in Namibia’s most famous game park began in 1997. Birgit is clearly passionate about the threatened pachyderms, describing them as ‘incredibly sensitive and intelligent creatures’. As one of only a tiny minority of women (more often than not, she was the only woman during rhino-capture operations), Kötting immersed herself in the tough job of assisting with the capture of rhinos designated for translocation under Namibia’s Rhino custodianship programme. In 2006 she took over the position as manager of this far-sighted attempt to safeguard the future of one of the world’s most charismatic and endangered species.
This meant that she would spend weeks away from home, intimately involved in the gruelling task of capturing rhinos and translocating them to their new range. She and her team would have to spend weeks at a time in the field, often under extreme bare-bone conditions, without showers and other amenities. “But,” acknowledges Birgit, “Although the working conditions were tough, I was able to deal with them, because when you like your job and are passionate about securing the future of a species as precious as the black rhino, you take the most challenging of conditions in your stride.”
She remembers working with rhinos in the Waterberg Plateau Park in 2010. Initially, it was estimated that the crew would have to spend about six weeks at the bomas where the captured rhinos were being acclimatised for translocation. Then, due to various problems, the team spent two months in the verdant mountain wilderness. Despite having prepared herself mentally for such an eventuality, she admits that such unexpected delays can be tough on your morale.
Birgit worked as manager of the Rhino Custodianship Programme from 2006 to 2011. She is currently the liaison officer between the custodians and Chief Control Wardens.
While Namibia is still relatively unaffected by the scourge of rhino poaching that is currently taking place in South Africa and elsewhere, Birgit says it’s vital that Namibia continues to enforce its anti-poaching measures. Rhino poaching galls her to the core. “It saddens me that people look past the beauty of a live animal and do everything in their power to lay their hands on the product they believe they have to have.” It is the poachers who hack the horns from a live animal that horrify her most. “The animal endures untold suffering for days until it dies. This disgusts me outright.”
Although Namibia has many legal provisions in place that count in favour of protecting the rhino, Birgit says: “We have to work at pre-empting threats to ensure that cooperation between all the parties – including Government, NGOs and the communities – remains strong and focussed.”